24 January 2015

A Manchurian Candidate’s State of the Union


Why do people who nominally like Obama side with his enemies?

Despite misgivings over his choice of financial and defense advisors, I voted for Barack Obama in 2008.  I continue to think he waged a brilliant “motherhood and mismatch” (or M&M) campaign for President, for reasons I explained in The M&M Strategy.  
Nevertheless, based on his actions and inactions as President, Mr. Obama has placed himself on the horns of the same kind of M&M dilemma he used to skewer Hillary Clinton and John McCain.  Mr. Obama has become a kind of Manchurian candidate for Republicans.  He supports their policies, while he neuters self-styled “progressive” opposition in the Democratic party, and in so doing, he paves the way for an even more self-evident, pseudo-liberal Manchurian candidate to deface the Democratic banner in the 2016 election.  
Meanwhile, the Banksters, the MICCsters, big Pharma, etc., will continue, with increasing ease, to synthesize neo-liberal economics with militant neo-conservatism into what looks like an emergent neo-fascist corporate state.
In retrospect, it should be patently clear that Mr. Obama has continued and reinforced the inequities of neoliberal economics.  These inequities have been expanding insidiously since the mid-1970s, in effect, mutating the post-WWII consumer society (which lasted only 25 years — a kind of “new normal”) into the “old normal” of the Gilded Age political-economy of 19th Century through 1929.  Combined with the arrogant triumphalism and exceptionalism accompanying the end of the Cold War, Mr. Obama has also reinforced the grand-strategic madness triggered by the Bush Administration in response to 9-11 (see this essay analyzing the criteria of a sensible grand strategy).  
Together these two trends — neoliberalism and neo-conservatism —  are coalescing to transform the political-economy of the United States into a pseudo democracy that rewards a few at the expense of the many.  The result is an emergent police state that spies on its citizens, incarcerates people without due process, and loots the people by engaging in financial cronyism and perpetual war; in effect, creating a political economy that privatizes profits and socializes losses.  As we will see below, the horror of this political-economic mutation is covered by a protective layer of cognitive dissonance, reinforced by ideology and a politicized mass media. 
This posting has three attachments.  Together, they illustrate the patently irrational nature of the cognitive dissonance now shaping the political debate.  In Attachment 1, an Obama apologist (who will remain unnamed) recently distributed an email praising Obama’s “achievements.”  He ends by posing a  question as if the answer were self evident, given these achievements: Why do so many people who nominally like Obama side with Republicans who hate him? 
The apologist’s email was triggered by Professor Michael Brenner’s analysis of Obama’s State of the Union Address (Attachment 3).  Although Brenner does not use the term, his subject is that Obama’s address reflected the dissonance at the center of contemporary political discourse.  In Attachment 2, my friend Mike Lofgren responds directly to the question raised in the critique of Brenner’s essay.  Taken together, Lofgren and Brenner effectively answer the apologist’s question — but until so-called progressives come to grips with the elemental nature of President Obama’s Manchurian Candidate-cy, silly questions like that in Attachment 1 will merely serve to lubricate the looting operation.

————- Attachment 1 ————-
A democrat’s critique of Professor Brenner’s essay, “Obama’s Epiphany:
Give the man a break! He's presided over one of the greatest economic recoveries in American history, rescued the American car industry, introduced universal health care, passed serious financial reform legislation, launched immigration reform, established challenging fuel efficiency standards, started the phase out of coal power, championed net neutrality, presided over an era of gay rights breakthroughs, ended two wars, insisted on the lightest possible kinetic/diplomatic mix in the latest iteration in Iraq, initiated rapprochement with Cuba and Iran, maintained stable relations with a very awkward customer in China, and lastly laid the foundation for a probable Democratic successor as President. There's probably more.
So, there's stuff where he's dropped the ball. I agree. Hardly surprising. On the big picture, however, the record looks not unimpressive. 
The Republicans hate him. Why on earth do people who nominally like him sign up on their side?

————- Attachment 2 ————-
Mike Lofgren answers the question:
[Lofgren, a close friend, is a retired member of the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee and is now a political independent for reasons that will become clear if one reads his book The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted and/or his essay Anatomy of the Deep State.]

1. The Great Recovery was “great” with respect to reflating Wall Street and some asset prices; income inequality continued to increase as the jobs that were created paid less than the jobs lost;
2. Not a single major Wall Street crook from the big firms was jailed, nor were there any salary caps placed on the bailed-out executives; Holder actually testified that Wall Street was so systemically important its executives should not be brought to justice. Could this attitude have been a result of Obama loading his administration with Wall Street stooges: Geithner, Daily, Orzag, Emanuel, et al? Obama wanted to put Larry Summers at Fed and Lazard Freres’ corporate inversion king Antonio Weiss at Treasury, until screaming from the Democratic base stayed his hand;
3. Obama’s Pentagon budgets exceeded even the outyear projections of the Bush administration; he agreed to the useless Afghan surge; overthrew Ghaddafi, leaving a failed state; initiated covert actions against Syria and nearly bombed Damascus until Putin of all people pulled his chestnuts out of the fire; let Nuland, Pyatt, and the CIA pull off a coup in Kiev. Now he’s helped restart the cold war;
4. Obama let Brennan run wild at CIA; but he repeatedly says he has full confidence in a guy who’s a pathological liar and who shows contempt for constitutional government; the administration’s draft “reform” of NSA would have given it even wider access to citizen data than it already has, which is practically unlimited;
5. He left 95% of the Bush tax cuts intact when they simply would have expired had he done nothing; he did not veto, but actually lobbied for (and signed) the 2015 Omnibus, which contains provisions to (a) put depositors and taxpayers on the hook to support Wall Street’s failed derivatives trades; (b) revised ERISA rules such that current retirees can have their pensions cut; and (c) created yet another loophole for big money in campaign financing.
6. The health care bill was identical to the Heritage Foundation’s and Newt Gingrich’s 1990s proposals: instead of single-payer Medicare for all, he opted for enormous subsidies for Big Pharma, the insurance industry, the hospital associations, etc. Was it because the GOP wouldn’t allow it? Not really, Obama took single payer, negotiated drug prices, etc., off the table from the beginning, at the behest of the industries concerned;
7. His administration has engaged in more harassment and prosecution of whistleblowers than any administration in memory;
8. Now that congressional Democrats are safely in the minority, Obama has indicated his enthusiasm for reviving more free trade scams (actually managed trade whereby we allow our industrial base to be destroyed in return for foreign countries permitting financial penetration by Goldman Sachs, Citi, JPMorgan, etc.);
9. Obama waited six years until he got a Congress that would sooner mandate cannibalizing children than countenance a tax increase. So now Obama proposes a purely symbolic tax increase on the rich (meaning, his and every politicians’ major contributors). Pure theater with cynical intent;
10. All the social issues stuff, gay rights, abortion, etc., are not monetary issues of who gets what. They do not affect Wall Street’s bottom line, so they are safe for Obama to use to create the illusion of parties fighting over issues. He also uses them strategically to keep his base mollified, much in the manner of throwing chum into a pond full of carp.
Sure, he’s not as crazy as the GOP on Iran, Cuba, and a variety of issues. Stomach flu isn’t as bad as Ebola. But somehow, precisely at a historic point when the Bush presidency was about as popular as herpes, and when the GOP had degenerated into an insane cult, Republicans managed a Lazarus-like resurrection whereby they won two landslide congressional races giving them the biggest majorities in decades, as well as taking over a thumping majority of state houses and governorships. Just because Republicans hate Obama is not a sufficient rationale for declaring his presidency impressive.
————- Attachment 3 ————-
OBAMA’s “ EPIPHANY”
Michael Brenner, Huffington Post, 21 January 2015
[Reposted with Professor Brenner’s permission]
American politics has come to occupy a spectral plane of reality that bears little resemblance to the universe of fact and logic many of us are accustomed to. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday – and the widespread reaction to it – is the ultimate confirmation that the gap between the virtual and the actual is unbridgeable. They no longer connect by any leap of imagination.
Obama presented Americans with a strongly argued case to press a progressive agenda that encompasses taxes, social spending and a variety of ancillary programs.  It was rooted in the philosophical soil that has sustained the Democratic Party for nearly a century. It meets crying national needs.  It conforms to principles of justice and decency that hold the Republic together. Unfortunately, it all amounted to little more than an exercise in rhetoric under current political realities.
Those realities are the ineluctable outcome of the Obama presidency’s abandonment of those very ideas from the day he entered the White House.  The speech is 6 years and 3 elections too late – literally behind the times. That raises serious questions as to the authenticity of the apparent conviction with which it was delivered and, therefore, the President’s motivations in deciding now to assume the mantle of reformer that he unceremoniously discarded after the 2008 election.  Has he experienced an epiphany, like Paul on the road to Damascus? Surely, he is on the road constantly at home as well as abroad but we know nothing of any stunning incidents occurring on Air Force One. Is he trying to bolster the Democrats’ chances in 2016 in a state of remorse of how low he has brought them in successive congressional elections and in state house races? Or, is Obama engaging in a campaign to shape his image for the afterlife of a former President in the public limelight and for posterity?
The last is most plausible. It also is the explanation ignored by the commentariat who are content to take the President’s declarations at face value. They, too, occupy a spectral space in which whatever happens today is disconnected from the recent past, to be viewed in existential isolation from the protagonist or his setting, and whose meaning for the incoherence of American public life goes unrecognized.
For those whose historical memory is short, here’s a quick canter through the Obama record.  This is the man whose response to the Great Financial Crisis was to appoint to every position of authority persons who themselves had participated directly in its occurrence or its facilitation: Rubin, Summers, Geithner, et al. Obama actively opposed and succeeded in thwarting every serious legislative or regulatory attempt to reform the system. He is the man who, along with Attorney general Eric Holder, refused to pursue criminal prosecution of even the most egregious miscreants and then promulgated the doctrine that they could be made immune from prosecution if conviction might damage the national economy.  Obama is the man who has put Social Security and Medicare in jeopardy by committing himself to deals with the Republican leadership that would markedly cut back benefits under both programs. This is the man who reneged on a pledge to workers that he would back moves that favor unionization.  This is the man  whose version of health care reform ruled out a public option but instead was built on a series of behind the scenes deals with Big Pharma and the health industry that pads their profits. This is the man who has all but declared war on public school teachers in stigmatizing them as the cause of what ails American education while campaigning relentlessly for the dubious panacea of profit driven charter schools.
One can go on and on. Obama has governed as what used to be called a Moderate Republican – leaving the long-standing, natural Democratic constituency in the dust. Even now, simultaneously with his progressive pivot, he has given two gift wrapped presents to the financial interests: one, lobbying with Jaime Dimon to gut a key provision of Dodd-Franks that put a barrier, albeit feeble, between the big banks trading on their account and trading on clients’ account; and, two, working with Wall Streeter Mary Jo White whom he appointed as head of the Security Exchange Commission to void regulations that were designed to restrict trading in volatile derivatives.
In the State of the Union speech itself, Obama made a strong plea for acquiescence is his prized  Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement (and implicitly its Euro-American) that he has been negotiating in concert with business leaders while keeping all other parties including Democratic Congressional leaders in the dark. The proposed treaty’s main impact and intent is to undercut all national authorities’ regularity power across the board by ensconcing a corporate right to challenge any regulation in a supranational court whose members they would help choose.       
There is no conceivable way that an all court press for passage of the TPP can be reconciled with Obama’s new-found progressive philosophy and vow of a dedication to reducing inequality in America.
What of the political implications for 2016? Certainly, the publicity given progressive ideas and the argument for them means that the issue cannot be ignored by the candidates – as Democrats like Hillary Clinton as well as Republicans have been inclined to do. The latter will use the current legislative session to undermine any concrete proposals to implement the agenda, will try to discredit the underlying ideas, and distract by stressing various social issues that play to their strength and their constituency. The challenge for the Democrats is greater.  For the Clintons turned their backs years again on the very thinking and interests that the State of the Union speech is reanimating. Hillary thought nothing of pocketing $400,000 from Goldman Sachs for sitting next to Lloyd Blankfein on a stage for half an hour soothing an audience of fat cat clients. Now, that image could be a liability were she to face a rival in the Democratic primaries. That looks unlikely, though, now that Elizabeth Warren has taken her name out of consideration and nobody else is stretching in the paddock.  There is Bernie Sanders – a genuine liberal who could make things very hot for Clinton in debates. Indeed, one could argue that such might be the best thing that could happen for her. Her blemished image and limp public persona would be invigorated and Democratic voters reenergized.  But Sanders is a maverick outsider.
Was this Obama’s Machiavellian intent? That seems highly improbable on several counts. Obama always has been a political loner who distances himself from his party. That was true in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014.  In fact, back in 2010 his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was smugly telling confidants that a Republican victory in the House would be to the advantage of the White House since President Obama no longer would be constrained to placate the progressives whom they both disdained.
So back to the question of why Obama “did it?” Following the Sherlock Holmesian axiom that once you have eliminated all other possibilities, whatever is left – however bizarre – is the truth, we are left with the conclusion that it was all about Obama.  His imagined “legacy,” his public profile over the next 30 years in the public eye, what will get him the attention and adulation that he craves. Perhaps, he simply concluded that recasting himself as a liberal carried better possibilities than the fuzzy picture of a middle-of-the-roader who played footsy with the business establishment, kowtowed to the Pentagon and the Intelligence agencies, and couldn’t end the endless wars on terror.
By retracing his steps, he hopes to place himself before the public as he was in 2008 – a Messiah without message or mission – but a Messiah nonetheless.
Michael Brenner is a Senior Fellow, the Center for Transatlantic Relations and Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh

18 January 2015

Announcement


I am pleased to announce the addition of a very important new page to the left hand column of this blog’s home page.  The page title is The Anatomy of Deep State.  
Bill Moyers (the publisher) and Mike Lofgren (the author) have graciously given me permission to post Mike's very important essay describing how a shadow government has emerged to shape the domestic and foreign policies of the United States. 
This shadow government nullifies the system of checks and balances in the Constitution.  And that makes it a problem that affects every American.
I urge readers to go to this link, watch the embedded video, and then read Lofgren’s important analysis attached beneath it.  Mike will have a lot more to say about the Deep State later this year.

17 January 2015

Terrorism In Paris: A Back Story



Waving in the first Row 
Uri Avneri, 17/01/15 (The author is Israel's leading peace activist -- his amazing biography is well worth reading.)
THE THREE Islamic terrorists could have been very proud of themselves, if they had lived to see it.
By committing two attacks (quite ordinary ones by Israeli standards) they spread panic throughout France, brought millions of people onto the streets, gathered more than 40 heads of states in Paris. They changed the landscape of the French capital and other French cities by mobilizing thousands of soldiers and police officers to guard Jewish and other potential targets. For several days they dominated the news throughout the world.
Three terrorists, probably acting alone. Three!!!
FOR OTHER potential Islamic terrorists throughout Europe and America, this must look like a huge achievement. It is an invitation for individuals and tiny groups to do the same again, everywhere.
Terrorism means striking fear. The three in Paris certainly succeeded in doing that. They terrorized the French population. And if three youngsters without any qualifications can do that, imagine what 30 could do, or 300!
Frankly, I did not like the huge demonstration. I have been in many demonstrations in my time, maybe more than 500, but always against the powers that be. I have never participated in a demonstration called by the government, even when the purpose was good. They remind me too much of the late Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and worse. Not for me, thank you.
But this particular demonstration was also counterproductive. Not only did it prove that terrorism is effective, not only did it invite copycat attacks, but it also hurt the real fight against the fanatics.
To conduct an effective fight, one has to put oneself first into the shoes of the fanatics and try to understand the dynamic that pushes young local-born Muslims to commit such acts. Who are they? What do they think? What are their feelings? In what circumstances did they grow up? What can be done to change them?
After decades of neglect, that is hard work. It takes time and effort, with results uncertain. Much easier for politicians to march in the street in front of the cameras.
AND WHO marched in the first row, beaming like a victor?
Our own and only Bibi.
How did he get there? The facts came out within record time. Seems he was not invited at all. On the contrary, President Francois Hollande sent explicit messages: please, please don't come. It would turn the demo into a show of solidarity with the Jews, instead of a public outcry for the freedom of the press and other "republican values". Netanyahu came nevertheless, with two extreme rightist ministers in tow.
Placed in the second row, he did what Israelis do: he shoved aside a black African president in front of him and placed himself in the front row.
Once there, he began waving to the people on the balconies along the way. He was beaming, like a Roman general in his triumphal parade. One can only guess the feelings of Hollande and the other heads of state – who tried to look appropriately solemn and mournful – at this display of Chutzpah.
Netanyahu went to Paris as part of his election campaign. As a veteran campaigner, he knew that three days in Paris, visiting synagogues and making proud Jewish speeches, were worth more than three weeks at home, slinging mud.
THE BLOOD of the four Jews murdered in the kosher supermarket was not yet dry, when Israeli leaders called upon the Jews in France to pack up and come to Israel. Israel, as everybody knows, is the safest place on earth.
This was an almost automatic Zionist gut reaction. Jews are in danger. Their only safe haven is Israel. Make haste and come. The next day Israeli papers reported joyfully that in 2015 more than 10,000 French Jews were about to come to live here, driven by growing anti-Semitism.
Apparently, there is a lot of anti-Semitism in France and other European countries, though probably far less than Islamophobia. But the fight between Jews and Arabs on French soil has little to do with anti-Semitism. It is a struggle imported from North Africa.
When the Algerian war of liberation broke out in 1954, the Jews there had to choose sides. Almost all decided to support the colonial power, France, against the Algerian people.
That had a historical background. In 1870, the French minister of justice, Adolphe Cremieux, who happened to be a Jew, conferred French citizenship on all Algerian Jews, separating them from their Muslim neighbors.
The Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) tried very hard to draw the local Jews to their side. I know because I was somewhat involved. Their underground organization in France asked me to set up an Israeli support group, in order to convince our Algerian co-religionists. I founded the "Israeli Committee For A Free Algeria" and published material which was used by the FLN in their effort to win over the Jews.
In vain. The local Jews, proud of their French citizenship, staunchly supported the colonists. In the end, the Jews were prominent in the OAS, the extreme French underground which conducted a bloody struggle against the freedom fighters. The result was that practically all the Jews fled Algeria together with the French when the day of reckoning arrived. They did not go to Israel. Almost all of them went to France. (Unlike the Moroccan and Tunisian Jews, many of whom came to Israel. Generally, the poorer and less educated chose Israel, while the French-educated elite went to France and Canada.)
What we see now is the continuation of this war between Algerian Muslims and Jews on French soil. All the four "French" Jews killed in the attack had North African names and were buried in Israel.
Not without trouble. The Israeli government put great pressure on the four families to bury their sons here. They wanted to bury them in France, near their homes. After a lot of haggling about the price of the graves, the families finally agreed.
It has been said that Israelis love immigration and don't love the immigrants. That certainly applies to the new "French" immigrants. In recent years, "French" tourists have been coming here in large numbers. They were often disliked. Especially when they started to buy up apartments on the Tel Aviv sea front and left them empty, as a kind of insurance, while young local people could neither find nor afford apartments in the metropolitan area. Practically all these "French" tourists and immigrants are of North African origin.
WHEN ASKED what drives them to Israel, their unanimous answer is: anti-Semitism. That is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of Israelis, they or their parents or grandparents, were driven here by anti-Semitism.
The two terms – anti-Semitism and Zionism – were born at almost the same time, towards the end of the 19th century. Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, conceived his idea when he was working in France as a foreign correspondence of a Viennese newspaper during the Dreyfus affair, when virulent anti-Semitism in France reached new heights. (Anti-Semitism is, of course, a misnomer. Arabs are Semites, too. But the term is generally used to mean only Jew-haters.)
Later, Herzl wooed outspoken anti-Semitic leaders in Russia and elsewhere, asking for their help and promising to take the Jews off their hands. So did his successors. In 1939, the Irgun underground planned an armed invasion of Palestine with the help of the profoundly anti-Semitic generals of the Polish army. One may wonder if the State of Israel would have come into being in 1948 if there had not been the Holocaust. Recently, a million and a half Russian Jews were driven to Israel by anti-Semitism.
ZIONISM WAS born at the end of the 19th century as a direct answer to the challenge of anti-Semitism. After the French revolution, the new national idea took hold of all European nations, big and small, and all of the national movements were more or less anti-Semitic.
The basic belief of Zionism is that Jews cannot live anywhere except in the Jewish State, because the victory of anti-Semitism is inevitable everywhere. Let the Jews of America rejoice in their freedom and prosperity – sooner or later that will come to an end. They are doomed like Jews everywhere outside Israel.
The new outrage in Paris only confirms this basic belief. There was very little real commiseration in Israel. Rather, a secret sense of triumph. The gut reaction of ordinary Israelis is: "We told you so!" and also: "Come quickly, before it is too late!"
I HAVE often tried to explain to my Arab friends: the anti-Semites are the greatest enemy of the Palestinian people. The anti-Semites have helped drive the Jews to Palestine, and now they are doing so again. And some of the new immigrants will certainly settle beyond the Green Line in the occupied Palestinian territories on stolen Arab land.
The fact that Israel benefits from the Paris attack has led some Arab media to believe that the whole affair is really a "false flag" operation. Ergo, in this case, the Arab perpetrators were really manipulated by the Israeli Mossad.
After a crime, the first question is "cui bono", who benefits? Obviously, the only winner from this outrage is Israel. But to draw the conclusion that Israel is hiding behind the Jihadists is utter nonsense.

The simple fact is that all Islamic Jihadism on European soil hurts only the Muslims. Fanatics of all stripes generally help their worst enemies. The three Muslim men who committed the outrages in Paris certainly did Binyamin Netanyahu a great favor.

09 January 2015

Why Ashton Carter Will Be a Caretaker on a Sinking Ship


[Note: this has been rewritten to remove typos and clarify language. CS]
Reader beware: This is a long blaster.
President Obama just named Ashton Carter to be his fourth defense secretary in six years.  If confirmed, Carter will face two huge, interconnected decision-making problems: 
  1. Fixing ever more costly, gold-plated military forces that may win tactical battles, but not wars at the operational, strategic, and grand strategic levels of conflict. (see this posting)
  2. Fixing the dysfunctional decision-making process — i.e., the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS) —  that is producing  an ever-tightening defense death spiral.    The central cause of this spiral is a ‘cost-plus’ political economy that rewards increasing technological complexity and cost growth.  This incentivizes a deep-seated economic gold-plating process for political reasons wherein the unit procurement and unit operating costs of increasingly complex weapons always rise  faster than overall defense budgets, even when those budgets increase sharply as they did after 1978 and 1998.  These asymmetrical growth rates create problems that increase political pressure for even larger defense budgets for reasons entirely unrelated to threats or strategies.
The interconnected problems of gold plating and dysfunctional decision making are seamlessly imbedded in the political-economic culture of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex or MICC.  Their effects have been worsening since the late 1960s, if not earlier.  Today, the incentive structure creating  these problems is  deeply entrenched in the power games practiced by the MICC’s highly politicized iron triangle.
 It is hard to imagine how Aston Carter, a consummate insider who has done absolutely nothing to reduce these problems in his earlier DoD positions, will be anything more than a caretaker on a sinking ship.  
My goal in this two-part posting is to explain why I say this.
Part I introduces and describes the nature of the defense death spiral (with links to specific studies that analyze it in detail), and Part II is a report by the Project on Government Oversight that shows that Mr. Carter has been an intimate part of the decision-making problems he will now be charged with correcting.
————————————
Part I: Introduction
The Defense Death Spiral
Why the Defense Budget is Always Underfunded
By Chuck Spinney (updated January 2014)
[The earlier and shorter version of this essay appeared in Time Magazine’s Battleland on July 19, 2011]
The courtiers in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac are always lining up to give a new Secretary of Defense advice on how to manage the Pentagon during the coming era of budget “constraints.”  Most of this wisdom takes the form of empty platitudes about how important it is to have a vision, a strategy, and to make the hard choices needed to budget for that strategy. 
One of my all time favorites is Dr. Daniel Goure’s 14 July 2011 admonition to incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the web page of the Lexington Institute, a pro-defense “think tank” funded in part by defense contractors.  Goure starts his advisory by saying:
“Let’s be honest. The current US defense program is underfunded, even at over $500 billion a year in the base budget and another $100 billion plus in contingency expenses.”
Goure then goes on to discuss the need for vision, particularly concerning controlling personnel and health costs and avoiding duplication by transferring work done in government facilities, and by the military, to contractors.  In other words, when times are tough, return to the old game of protecting industry at the expense of the soldier and the taxpayer.
Ironically, as the following chart shows, regardless of how you account for inflation, defense spending in 2011, when Goure was dispensing his advice, had reached the highest level since the end of WWII, far higher on an annual basis that the budgets to support the far larger, higher-tempo Korean and Vietnam Wars. 
Goure was correct about one thing, however.  The defense program is underfunded. In fact, it is ALWAYS underfunded — and that is no accident. So, before dispensing advice on how to shovel money to his buddies in the defense industry, Goure should have explained how and why the highest budget since the end of World War II could possibly end up underfunding the smallest force structure since 1950.  After all, the United States is engaged in a tough, but relatively small war on terror, with far smaller forces and minuscule operational tempos compared to those deployed to either Korea and Vietnam.
Moreover, the United States no longer needs to spend a large part of the defense budget to maintain huge forward deployed conventional and nuclear forces to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  Nevertheless, despite a defense budget that has almost doubled in inflation adjusted dollars since 1998, the new Secretary of Defense will be overseeing a defense program that is in the programmatic equivalent of a meltdown — replete with cost overruns, delays, and production stretch-outs to undermine the modernization program, while pressure is increasing to cutback combat readiness in the middle of a war to bail out the floundering modernization program.
Why?
If a new Defense Secretary wants to nurse the Pentagon into to health, he must come to grips with the underlying causes of the Defense Death Spiral — a problem I have been studying and writing about since the late 1970s.
The death spiral is the central management problem plaguing the Department of Defense — i.e. because it is causing the meltdown of the entire defense program.  It can be characterized in a general sense as being produced by the mutually reinforcing effects of — 

  • A Modernization Program that Cannot Modernize the Force: The MICC’s predilection for increasing high-tech ever-more complex weapons and supporting equipment (for domestic-political economic reasons) causes the unit costs of new weapons to always grow faster than overall defense budgets, even when those budgets increase sharply, as they did in the early 1980s and after 1998. Consequently, new weapons always cost far more than their predecessors, and cannot be produced at high enough rates to replace existing weapons on a one-for-one basis.  Decreasing replacement rates cause the average age of the weapons in the force structure increase over time, and eventually the ages of the oldest weapons reach a point where they must be retired without replacement.  The result is the well-documented, long-term trend toward smaller and older forces.  This evolution has been in place since the late 1950s.
  • The Rising Cost of Low Readiness: Notwithstanding promises to the contrary (i.e., of lower life cycle costs), the unit operating costs of increasingly complex (and aging) weapons have also risen considerably faster than overall budgets.  This asymmetry creates continual budgetary pressure to reduce readiness and to shrink force size, in part to contain growth in the operating budget itself, but also to free up the additional funds to finance the underfunded modernization program (known as robbing readiness to save modernization).
  • The Pentagon’s Bookkeeping Shambles: Corrupt and unauditable accounting, financial management, and program planning systems lubricate the degenerative process by making it impossible to assemble the decision-making information needed to sort out and correct the first two problems.
As long as these three relations remain in place, the defense budget will always be underfunded.  As I explained to Senator John Tower during testimony to Congress in March 1983, “Spending more money the same way actually makes matters worse.”  A near doubling of the defense budget since 1998 has shown again that statement to be correct.
This is the fundamental management dilemma facing any new Secretary of Defense.  
Resolving it won’t be easy, because this triad of structural problems is just one outward manifestation of deeper behavioral pathologies.  These pathologies built up insensibly, and without design, over during the 40 years of industrial mobilization for the Cold War.  They are now deeply embedded in the iron-triangle culture of the Pentagon, the defense industry, and Congress  — the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex or MICC (depicted in the following graphic).  


One of the most important and oiliest lubricants keeping the money and power flowing smoothly throughout the MICC is the rotation of military officers and civilians through the notorious revolving door, depicted at the center of the triangle.  
Best known are military officers, especially generals (e.g.,see herehere, & here), who cash out to join defense contractors (or hanger-on outfits like consulting companies, defense oriented think-tanks, etc.) or defense-related congressional staffs.  Less well appreciated are civilian political appointees, like Daniel Goure (see bio) or incoming defense secretary Ashton Carter, who move back and forth among these poles, generally parlaying each move into a higher position on the well-oiled upward slope to more influence and wealth in the MICC. 
The pernicious aspects of the revolving door are deep and troubling.  It is a reflection of a comfortable club of shared interests that promotes the MICC’s own wellbeing at the expense of the nation's wellbeing; it encourages an elite culture of arrogant entitlement, particularly at the highest levels.  These entitlements are seen as rights to taxpayer dollars, even when the ‘entitlements’ generally stay within the confines of the Pentagon’s loose ethics laws (enacted over the years by compliant Congresses and Presidents).  
A stunning example of this sense of entitlement came to light in February 2009, when Ashton Carter was being vetted for the job of Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. Bill Gertz of the Washington Times reported that 
“Financial questions have been raised about Mr. Carter’s past activities, including government reimbursement for a taxi cab ride he took from Washington to his residence in Massachusetts, the officials said.” 
But there is a lot more to Mr. Carter’s revolving door gambits: Attached beneath this posting as Part II is a report just issued by the Project on Government Oversight describing these gambits.
The individual decision makers in the MICC also exhibit repetitive patterns of bureaucratic behaviour known as the defense power games (front loading and political engineering). These power games, which are in part incentivized by the prospects of moving throughout the revolving door (and cashing in on its culture of entitlement), create the modernization, readiness, and bookkeeping problems that effectively turn the decision-making and program planning processes inward on itself.  The propensity to focus on the MICC’s internal dynamics works to disconnect the entire decision-making and policy-formulation processes from the external reality those processes purport to cope with — i.e. the threats facing our forces, the strategy aimed at meeting those threats, and the force structures needed to execute the strategy.  The resulting self-referential decision making engine spins in on itself to produce the defense death spiral.  It is summarized by the following diagram.  

Simply repeating the same old empty platitudes about the need to have a strategy and to fit forces and then derive budgets for those forces goes nowhere when faced with this kind of behaviour.  Ironically, the decision process in the Pentagon that consumes millions of man hours each year to create this mess year after year — the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System or PPBS — already is designed precisely to link threats to strategy to forces and then to budgets!  The real problem is why this seemingly logical approach fails to do so year after year.
The repetitive pattern of these decision-making pathologies and their effects has been well understood and documented since the early 1980s.  Moreover, the current programmatic meltdown in Defense Department was foreseen by the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Nevertheless, with a few lonely exceptions, notably Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), no one in leadership positions in the Pentagon, Congress, or the White House has taken any interest in correcting the underlying problems shaping the MICC’s (the Pentagon’s) self destructive pattern of behavior.
By the end of the 1980s, it became quite clear that there would be no efforts to reform the decision making process in the immediate future.  Accordingly, I decided the only thing I could do was to document these problems for posterity.  My intent was to provide a contemporaneous track record showing how these problems were indeed foreseeable and how they could have been avoided, if the leaders in the Pentagon chose to make the effort. They did not — and today, the American public is reaping the Pentagon’s bitter harvest of shame — an underfunded defense program in chaos, even though is being funded by largest budgets since the end of World War II (after removing the effects of inflation).  
Those who blame the mess in the Pentagon on the war on terror and out of control personnel and medical costs are selling snake oil to grease a continuation of this destructive pattern of business as usual.
This link, for example, will take you some of my more important unclassified reports and papers describing these problems:  They explain why and how the Defense program has been in a continuous state of unraveling.  They predicted what would happen if these behavioral pathologies were left on unaddressed.  My June 2002 statement to Congress outlined a comprehensive plan for fixing these general decision-making problems.  I don’t know if that plan will work, but at least it was designed to address the real causes of the underfunding problem.
TACAIR Case Study
No mission area is more instructive for understanding the Pentagon’s behavioral pathologies than that of tactical fighter aviation or TACAIR.  
The pathologies came to a head as the Cold War was ending in the early 1990s.  Assuming the Cold War would continue unabated, the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps had been planning to embark on a new generation of high-cost, high-complexity fighter/attack aircraft (these evolved into the F-22, F/A-18E/F, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter). These fighters were all designed under the exaggerated threat assumptions that were in place during last decades of the Cold War.
To summarize: In 1991, just as the Cold War was ending, the AF front loaded the F-22 by pushing it prematurely though decision-making milestone II into what was then known as “concurrent engineering and manufacturing development” (EMD).  The EMD decision allowed the contractor (Lockheed Martin) to begin the construction of the F-22’s social safety net by spreading dollars, jobs, and profits to many congressional districts, a power game known as political engineering.  The games of front loading and political engineering are explained in my 1990 pamphlet Defense Power Games.  
Less than a year later, the Navy pulled off the same kind of front loading stunt by prematurely rushing the F-18E/F into EMD for the same reason [discussed herehere, and here].  Both airplanes were high-cost legacies of Cold War thinking.  
The bureaucratic objective of the decision-making game in each case was to turn on the money spigot and to lock it open; in effect, the goal was to let the Cold-War cows out the Cold-War barn before its doors closed by gaming the MICC’s iron triangle.
It is important understand how the senior military and civilian decision makers in the Pentagon responsible for rushing these two decisions knowingly created a long term force-structure crisis.  They knew beforehand that the Pentagon’s contractors could not possibly produce new F-22s and F-18E/Fs quickly enough (even in the unlikely event where there were no delays due to cost overruns and technical problems) to replace the 3,000-plus fighter/attack aircraft then in the inventories on a timely basis.  Consequently, decision makers knew before the fact that the average age of the older airplanes remaining in those inventories would rapidly grow to unprecedented levels.  They also knew from past experience that increased aging would lead to unpredictable increases in future operating budgets.  Finally, the people approving these front-loaded decisions knew the only way to slow down the increased rate of aging would be to eventually make a decision to drastically reduce the size of those inventories by retiring the oldest airplanes without replacement.
But most importantly, the senior decision makers responsible for these front-loaded decisions also knew beforehand that the force-structure crisis created by their premature F-22/F-18E/F decisions would create irresistible pressure to approve the development a third fighter aircraft (then being conceived in stealthy secrecy) to paper over the long-term crisis they deliberately created.  
That decision came only two years later, with the approval of yet a third gold plated fighter/attack program — the problem-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, yet another Cold-War-inspired concoction of highly complex and costly technologies, but in this case it is one that metastasized into most expensive weapon acquisition program in history.
Put bluntly, the disastrous ramifications of decisions made in the early 1990s were understood before they were approved. 
I wrote several contemporaneous reports explaining what was happening and what would happen. They all can be found here in the subsection entitled “Specific Reports on Tactical Fighters.”  Together, with my March 1996 essay, Defense Budget Time Bomb, the case of tactical aviation provides the clearest evidence of how the Pentagon bureaucracy, with malice of forethought, deliberately created the modernization crisis that metastasized after 2000 and is now staring the Secretary of Defense in face.  
A more general, albeit more complex picture of the same pattern of decision making though out the Department of Defense can be found in my unclassified briefing, Defense Death Spiral.
That, in a nutshell, is the dirty story of why the defense budget is always underfunded. 
You won’t hear this story from courtiers now trying to ingratiate themselves with the new Secretary of Defense.  Given that political pressure is mounting to cut back non-defense programs like Social Security, Medicare, education, infrastructure, etc., to reduce deficit, I believe the time has come to rein in the Pentagon’s out of control budget, to discipline those responsible for the MICC’s reckless behavior, and to force the Pentagon to clean up its act.
Job 1 is to provide more reliable decision-making information to the Secretary of Defense, so he and his staff can figure out what is needed to pull the Pentagon out of its death spiral.  The only incentive to force this is to put the entire core budget at “risk,” say by placing the core (non-war related)  budget on a downward sloping glide path of 2 to 4% per year (in current as opposed to inflation-adjusted dollars) until the Pentagon can produce audit-able books. That would simply bring the Defense Department into compliance with Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 and the Accountability and Appropriations Clauses of the Constitution. Given that every member of the Defense Department has taken a sacred oath to protect the Constitution, making the Pentagon conform to the requirements of the Constitution is hardly an onerous requirement.
Only with cleaner books can serious policy-making and strategic planning begin.  Readers interested in a short primer written by defense insiders, with over 400 years of collective experience, on how to think about defense and what kinds of changes can and should be made once we have reliable information are referred to The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It.
Is Ashton Carter the man to fix the Pentagon?  Part II addresses this question.
————————————
Part II: Revolving Door Case Study
Ashton Carter Takes Revolving Door to Higher Level
Michael Smallberg, Investigator, POGO, January 6, 2015
[re-printed with permission]
Countless officials in Washington have traveled a familiar path through the revolving door, moving from the private sector to the government and back again. Ashton Carter, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, is part of an elite crowd that has managed to keep a foot in both worlds at the same time.
Several reports have mentioned Carter’s work as a consultant to the defense industry between stints as a full-time official at the Department of Defense (DoD). But the Project On Government Oversight has found that Carter’s role, like that of many other members of Washington’s defense policy establishment, went deeper. While working in the private sector, he has held plum positions on government advisory boards that called for reforms with potential ramifications for his defense industry clients and other companies that receive DoD dollars.
Carter is hardly alone. Federal ethics laws allow scores of advisers at the Pentagon and other agencies to serve in these influential positions while keeping close ties to big businesses overseen by the government. Carter’s nomination serves to illustrate how the government allows members of the policy establishment to straddle both sides, and how it’s become a fixture of the military-industrial-congressional complex.
Carter’s dual roles as government and private adviser have overlapped the most in missile defense and U.S. space policy. These are programs with significant taxpayer dollars at stake: the federal government spends about $8 billion a year on missile defense alone. By virtue of his service on advisory panels, Carter has been in a position to influence government policies and gain an inside perspective on future programs while carrying on his outside roles related to missile defense.
As a member of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board, he served on a task force that produced a 2007 report arguing that numerous U.S. allies measure the “strength of U.S. security assurances” in part by dollars spent on missile defense and theater missile defense programs. Another 2007 board report on U.S. space policy warned that “U.S. policy makers should resist efforts to prohibit space-based missile defenses as ‘weaponization of space,’” and said the State Department “should support the right of the United States to explore the potential of space-based defenses without international restrictions.”
As he was one of several board members, it’s unclear how much Carter himself shaped the contents of these advisory reports. He did not respond to POGO’s request for comment.
Like other advisers who serve as Special Government Employees, Carter was generally prohibited from taking action on particular matters affecting his financial interests (although it’s often unclear how well the government enforces this prohibition, which largely relies on employees to disclose and manage their own conflicts). Nonetheless, government actions and private interests occasionally intersected with Carter’s advisory work.
In 2008, while still serving on the board that advised the State Department on missile defense, Carter received $10,000 for providing technical advice to Raytheon, a giant defense contractor that has received substantial taxpayer funding to work on missile defense systems. He disclosed his work for Raytheon in 2009 when he became the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. In a 2009 ethics letter, Carter agreed to wait one year before participating in DoD matters involving the company.
Over the past ten years, Raytheon has received more than $11 billion in contract obligations from the MDA alone. The Obama Administration has canceled some missile defense systems in recent years, but the program is still big business for Raytheon. In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, then-Under Secretary Carter wrote that an “essential element” of the program is the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor, which is manufactured by Raytheon. The company also makes the Patriot missile defense system and the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, a key component of intercontinental ballistic missile defense. In 2013, the MDA presented Carter with the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Award. “Dr. Carter has been instrumental in defining the relationship between the Missile Defense Agency, the developer, and the Services,” according to a DoD press release.
Earlier in his career, Carter served on powerful panels that advised the Pentagon while he also consulted with clients investing in the defense industry.
From 1991 to 1993, and then again from 1997 to 2001, Carter was a member of the Defense Science Board, which advises the Pentagon on the acquisition process and other “matters of special interest,” according to its charter. POGO has reviewed a board report, issued in December 1999, which proposed watering down certain procurement rules that were put in place to protect taxpayers from wasteful contract spending. Carter served on a task force that drafted the advisory board report, alongside ex-government officials and representatives of defense contractors such as United Technologies Corporation (UTC), Raytheon, and General Dynamics. The report said that the “sheer volume, complexity and fluidity” of government contracting rules “serve to discourage commercial firms, U.S. and foreign alike, from doing business with DoD.” It also expressed concern about “insufficient clarity in DoD policy on cross-border defense industrial mergers and acquisitions.” The board’s recommendations comported with a series of so-called “acquisition reforms” that had been spearheaded by the Clinton Administration under the banner of “Reinventing Government,” as detailed by POGO at the time.
Starting in 1998, while still advising the Pentagon, Carter also began working as a senior partner at Global Technology Partners. In a 1999 press release, the firm is described as a “specialized group of investment professionals” working to “acquire and invest in technology, defense, aerospace and related businesses worldwide.” At the time, Carter and his investment partners were acquiring a stake in Condor Systems, Inc., a “privately held defense electronics firm” that specialized in “signals intelligence, electronic support measures, and specialized electronic countermeasures systems for the electronic warfare industry.”
“[W]e believe that our association with Global Technology Partners…will assist us in identifying attractive acquisition candidates,” Condor wrote in a 2000 disclosure to investors. Condor’s business at the time included sole-source contracts on the Air Force’s B-52H bomber and the Navy’s Aegis class ships. The company also supplied prime contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing. Condor received nearly $50 million in obligated DoD contract dollars in fiscal years 2000 and 2001, during Carter’s tenure on the Defense Science Board.
In 2000, Global Technology Partners formed a “strategic alliance” with Rothschild, the global investment bank. “We believe the combination of Rothschild’s global relationships and Global Technology Partner’s access to and knowledge of the international defense and aerospace industry will create high level strategic advisory and investment opportunities,” a Rothschild executive stated in a press release.
“These opportunities will arise from the continued consolidation of second and third tier defense companies, the anticipated relationships that are forming among aerospace and defense companies on a cross border basis and GTP’s insight into defense markets and technologies,” the Rothschild executive said. These are some of the same issues that Carter and other members of the Defense Science Board tackled in their 1999 report on procurement.
Carter’s investment colleagues at Global Technology Partners included other former senior officials—such as former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former CIA Director John Deutch— who were serving simultaneously as advisers to DoD. Perry and Deutch also had close ties to giant defense contractors: Perry served on the boards of UTC and Boeing, while Deutch served on the board of Raytheon.
From 1997 to 2001, Carter also served as a member of the Defense Policy Board, another influential Pentagon committee that advises on “issues central to strategic Department of Defense (DoD) planning,” according to its charter. Unlike the Defense Science Board, the Defense Policy Board “does not publish separate reports,” according to a database of federal advisory committees, and it’s unclear what role Carter played in the panel’s work. Nonetheless, Carter’s industry clients stood to benefit from his role as a Pentagon advisor on both panels. (Another former member of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, ended up resigning after a controversy erupted over his ties to companies that had business pending before the government.)
When President Obama nominated Carter last month, he praised Carter’s record as a “reformer who’s never been afraid to cancel old or inefficient weapons programs.” When Carter was the Pentagon’s top procurement official, he introduced a sweeping initiative, known as “Better Buying Power,” aimed at “delivering better value to the taxpayer and improving the way the Department does business.” He proposed several measures—such as leveraging competition, using proper contract types, strengthening the acquisition workforce, and mandating affordability—to help the Pentagon “do more without more.”
When it comes to holding contractors accountable, however, Carter’s views as a public official have aligned at times with the views espoused by the contracting industry. As POGO reported during Carter’s stint as the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, he warned the Commission on Wartime Contracting in 2011 that mandatory suspension of indicted contractors could have a “chilling effect on contractor cooperation in identifying and fixing real problems.”
Will Ashton Carter be able to stand up to defense contractors as Secretary of Defense? Or will he be more concerned with ensuring their cooperation? Given his tangled history as a public and private advisor, taxpayers may have good reason to be concerned.
--------------------

Michael Smallberg is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Michael's investigations center on oversight of the financial sector.

07 January 2015

Can a Gold-Plated Military Counter ISIS?


Lightly armed guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist forces are once again holding off the high-tech, heavily armed forces of the United States.  A string of defeats is slowly accumulating at the strategic and grand-strategic levels of conflict, even though US forces almost always win battles at the tactical level, if they can fix the insurgents and destroy them with overwhelming firepower, particularly bombing.  But when viewed through the overlapping lenses of the operational, strategic, and grand strategic levels of conflict guerrillas have advantages to offset US firepower. 
Faced with the tactical threat of overwhelming conventional firepower, irregular fighters always strive to retain the initiative at the operational level of conflict by perfecting the arts of quick dispersal and blending in with the physical and cultural background, while relying on provocations (beheadings?), hit and run attacks, and the ubiquitous threat of booby traps to keep US forces on edge and increase our expenditure of effort.  To paraphrase T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), the guerrilla’s operational level goal is to wage a war of detachment, presenting a threat everywhere, “never affording a target” and “never on the defensive except by accident or error.” [Boyd, POC, Slide 64]  At the strategic level of conflict, guerrillas aim to wear down US forces by keeping them under continual mental and physical strain, while at the decisive level of grand strategy, their aim is to stretch out and increase the cost of the intervention to undermine the US political will at home, weaken its allied support, keep neutrals neutral or empathetic to guerrilla cause, and attract recruits. 
In short guerrillas love protracted wars -- periods of apparent inaction punctuated by short, sharp fights — or in the naive lexicon of fascinated American counter-insurgency enthusiasts, guerrillas love long wars.  That is because protracted wars create an unfolding stream of events that play into the guerrilla’s hands at the decisive grand-strategic level of conflict. 
Juxtapose the guerrilla art of war to that described by President Obama in his declaration of a war on ISIS last September.  Obama called for yet another high-cost, fire-power centric attrition strategy with the objective “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS  “through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”  This art of war at its core assumes the art is all tactical — i.e. destruction by bombing — and that this assumption of pure attrition is the only effect of military operations needed to eventually procure success at the operational, strategic, and grand strategic levels of war to “ultimately” destroy ISIS. 
Put another way, the idea of a protracted military operations implicit in Mr. Obama’s words fits the guerrilla strategy like a hand fits a glove.
It is not as if the United States has not experienced the grand-strategic meat grinding effects of this kind of thinking.  They clearly unfolded to our chagrin in Viet Nam.  They are unfolding again in the perpetual Global War on Terror (GWOT), which, in terms money adjusted for inflation, is now by some estimates the second most expensive war in US history, requiring annual defense budgets far exceeding the annual budgets of the much larger, higher tempo Korean and Viet Nam Wars (see graphic).  
One problem is that like guerrillas, the domestic political-economy of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) has come to love protracted small wars war for the obvious reason that high budgets enrich and strengthen the MICC’s iron triangle, thereby providing it with the political power and wealth needed to keep its game going, just as President Eisenhower feared over 50 years ago in his farewell address (January 1961).  The explosive cost of small wars is a predictable consequence of  the domestic politics of the MICC’s political-economy and its addiction to gold-plated weapons that naturally flow out of dysfunctional bureaucratic/political power games exhibited by the MICC’s well-documented decision-making pathologies. (a subject discussed throughout the variety of reports assembled here.)  
Attached is a report that places the battlefield consequences of our addiction to high-cost gold plated weapons into sharp relief.  The author, Patrick Cockburn, is one of the most astute reporters covering the violent politics now re-shaping the Middle East. Cockburn places these weapons into an effectiveness perspective for the protracted war du jour —  Mr. Obama’s long war to “disrupt, and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Which may be possible ... if ISIS is stupid enough to put all its eggs into the siege of Kobani.


War with Isis: Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter the militants' gruesome tactics
The West needs more than a 'White Knight' if it wants to succeed
PATRICK COCKBURN, Independent, 28 December 2014
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/war-with-isis-the-west-needs-more-than-a-white-knight-9946580.html
[Re-printed with permission of the author]
There is a scene in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass in which Alice meets the White Knight who is wearing full armour and riding a horse off which he keeps falling.
Alice expresses curiosity about why he has placed spiked metal anklets on his horse's legs just above the hoofs. "To guard against the bites of sharks," he explains, and proudly shows her other ingenious devices attached to himself and his horse.
Alice notices that the knight has a mouse trap fastened to his saddle. "I was wondering what the mouse trap was for," says Alice. "It isn't very likely there would be any mice on the horse's back." "Not very likely, perhaps," says the Knight, "but if they do come, I don't choose to have them running all about." It's as well "to be provided for everything", adds the Knight. As he explains his plans for countering these supposed dangers, he continues to tumble off his horse.
The White Knight's approach to military procurement is very similar to that of the American and British military establishments. They drain their budgets to purchase vastly expensive equipment to meet threats that may never exist, much like the sharks and mice that menace Alice's acquaintance. Thus the Pentagon spends $400bn (£257bn) on developing the F-35 fighter (Britain is buying planes at a cost of £100m each) to gain air superiority over Russia and China in the event of a war with either power.
Meanwhile, equipment needed to fight real wars is neglected, even though no answer has been found to old-fashioned weapons such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that caused two-thirds of the US-led coalition's casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A strange aspect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is that there has been so little criticism of the failure of expensively equipped Western armies to defeat lightly armed and self-trained insurgents. This is in sharp contrast to the aftermath of the US Army's failure to win the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. The question is of more than historic interest because the US, UK and other allies are re-entering the wars in Iraq and Syria where they are seeking to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).
Perhaps the military are not being blamed for lack of success in Iraq and Afghanistan because the failure there is seen as political, rather than military. There is some truth in this, but it is also true that army commanders have been agile in avoiding responsibility for what went wrong. A senior US diplomat asked me in exasperation in Baghdad five or six years ago: "Whatever happened to the healthy belief the American public had after Vietnam that our generals seldom tell the truth?"
Iraq this year has seen a more grotesque and wide-ranging failure than the inability to cope with IEDs. The Iraqi Army was created and trained by the US at great expense, but this summer it was defeated by a far smaller and less well-armed force of insurgents led by Isis. It was one of the most shameful routs in history, as Iraqi Army commanders abandoned their men, jumped into helicopters and fled. The new Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, admits that 50,000 "ghost soldiers" in the Iraqi Army had never existed and their salaries fraudulently diverted into their officers' pockets.
The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police Service, some 350,000 soldiers and 650,000 police, had been built by the US at a cost of $26bn since 2003, according to the recent report of the US Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction. It is a fascinating document that demands answers to many questions, such as how did $9.4bn get spent on training, staffing and supplying the Iraqi police, though this force is notorious for its corruption and incompetence. Another $3.4bn went on supplying the Iraqi Army with tanks, aircraft, boats, armoured personnel carriers and other equipment, much of which was later captured by Isis. Curiously, Isis was immediately able to find crews for the tanks and artillerymen for the guns without any lengthy and expensive training programmes.
The 3,000 American soldiers President Obama has sent back into Iraq are to start training the remaining 26 brigades of the Iraqi Army all over again, without anybody asking what went wrong between 2003 and 2014. Why is it that Isis recruits can fight effectively after two weeks' military training and two weeks' religious instruction, but the Iraqi Army cannot? Maybe the very fact of being foreign-trained delegitimises them in their own eyes and that of their people.
Renewed foreign military intervention in Iraq and Syria is primarily in the form of air strikes of which there have been more than 1,000 since bombing started in Iraq on 8 August. What is striking about these figures is that there have been so few compared to the 48,224 air strikes during the 43 days of bombing against Saddam Hussein's army in 1991. A reason for this is that Isis is a guerrilla force that can be dispersed, so only about 10 per cent of missions flown actually lead to air strikes against targets on the ground.
Only against the Isis forces besieging the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria is the US Air Force able to inflict heavy casualties. It is not clear why Isis continues with a battle where it is most vulnerable to air power, but the probable reason is that it wants to prove it can win another divinely inspired victory, despite heavy air attacks.
In more than 10 years of war in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, it is the insurgents and not those in charge of Western military policy and procurement who have developed the most effective cocktail of military tactics and methods of attack suited to local circumstances. These include various types of IEDs supplemented by booby traps that make those few areas reconquered from Isis dangerous for soldiers and uninhabitable for civilians.
IS has turned suicide bombing by individuals or by vehicles packed with explosives into an integral part of their fighting repertoire, enabling them to make devastating use of untrained but fanatical foreign volunteers. Isis deploys well-trained snipers and mortar teams, but its most effective weapon is spreading terror by publicising its atrocities through the internet.
Gruesome though these tactics are, they are much more effective than anything developed by Western armies in these same conflicts. Worse, Western training encourages an appetite on the part of its allies for helicopters, tanks and artillery that only have limited success in Iraqi conditions, although bombing does have an impact in preventing Isis using a good road system for attacks by several hundred fighters in convoys of pick-up trucks and captured Humvees.
While Isis may be suffering more casualties, it is in a position to recruit tens of thousands fighters from the population of at least five or six million that it controls. Six months after the Islamic State was declared, it has not grown smaller. As with the White Knight, the US and its allies are not undertaking the measures necessary to fight their real enemy.

01 January 2015

The Taylor Report


Why The Low Pass Filter Is NOT Broken in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac
All bureaucracies, but especially those in the Pentagon and the CIA, can be likened to low pass filters in acoustics and electrical/optical engineering. Low pass filters are conventionally thought of as a barrier that attenuates or blocks the passage of waves at higher frequencies while allowing waves at lower frequencies to pass easily through it.  Everyone has experienced how a wall separating the ear from music being played on a record player in another room allows lower frequency sound waves to pass through it more easily than high frequency sounds. If one thinks of low frequency rumbling as being an indicator of normalcy in a bureaucracy and high frequency shrieking as being an indicator or warning of some kind of non-normalcy or abnormalcy, then the analogy becomes exact: Bureaucracies love normalcy and they hate abnormalcy, especially when the abnormalcy involves telling embarrassing truths to its employers, the American people. 
Bureaucracies are also highly adaptable living cultural systems.  Like any living system, bureaucracies maintain their cohesion in the presence of external disturbances with adaptations made through a complex network of subtle homeostatic control loops.  These loops naturally evolve antibodies to guard against abnormalcy, much like the human body produces antibodies to reduce a fever.  Higher frequencies (shrieking) in this analogy can be likened to fever, so bureaucracies evolve their own equivalent to antibodies to protect the smooth low frequency rumbling of normalcy, and thereby defeat shrieks for change.  When old antibodies lose their punch, the bureaucracy naturally evolves powerful new ones.
To wit, consider please these two examples of antibody production, when the Pentagon has been threatened with accountability reforms: 
1. Delay and Obfuscation: In 1990, Congress passed and the President signed the Chief Financial Officers Act to require the Executive Department, particularly the Defense Department, to produce auditable books. Such books would provide the information that is necessary for Congress to exercise the Title I duties assigned to it by the Accountability and Appropriations Clauses of the Constitution.  The Pentagon responded to this threat by saying something akin to, “Roger, we are pressing on, but we have a few problems.  We are working these problems and will begin to produce auditable books in 1996.”  Today, after 24 years of delay and obfuscation, the deadline has been pushed back to 2018 or so.  More importantly, the accountability issue is politically dead, in part because the Pentagon’s narrative to Congress is something like “I urge patience, we are still pressing on to solve the audit problem, but protecting the warfighter has become our top priority.” How can the Pentagon set rational priorities when it cannot account for what it is doing?  That is a question left unasked by Congress which, in fact, is quite content with the money flow that is protecting the status quo of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex.
2. Shooting the Messenger: In 1989, the Congress passed and the President signed the Whistleblower Protection Act, a federal law that is supposed to protect government employees from retaliation when they report misconduct in the agency they work for.  Misconduct is defined as evidence of (1) violation of the law, rule, or regulation; (2) gross mismanagement; (3) gross waste of funds; (4) abuse of authority; and (5) governmental actions that present a danger to public health or safety. The law set up a complex hierarchy of legal and quasi-legal agency structures to protect ‘authentic’ whistleblowers while dismissing ‘false’ whistleblowers.  
But the institutional changes implied by this rational-sounding “protection" scheme opened the door for a normal bureaucratic evolution of new antibodies to quell the fever of abnormalcy. The obvious one has been to evolve a filtering policy that is prejudiced toward adjudicating faults in the whistle blower rather than faults in the bureaucracy running the agency — i.e., assuming the whistleblower is guilty of misconduct until he or she is proven innocent.  That is the subject of this blaster.
Introduction to the Taylor Report
Ironically, the evolution of an upside-down protection process is made easier by the name of the act itself: The label “whistleblower” (a term I detest) has a negative connotation in the bureaucratic culture he or she inhabits.  The central evolved value in any bureaucratic culture is “don’t make waves," that you must "go along to get along.” The clear connotation is that a “whistleblower" is making waves by not “going along” with the program.  When viewed through the powerful bureaucratic lens of nomalcy, the whistleblower is exhibiting a non-normal, or abnormal, or dare I say shrieking behaviour. 
Why not use the label “heretic” in place of whistleblower?  Simple. Heretics can be dangerous people of principle, promoting issues of substance, like Galileo or Sir Thomas More, as well as loony apostates.  How about “maverick?”  The problem with this label is that  it implies someone who, like Colonel John Boyd, is an unorthodox independent-minded individualist who stands alone, who may be a little crazy and is a rule breaker, but has a romantic competence that is reminiscent of the loner in the mythical west who ends up always doing the hard right instead of the easy wrong. 
The label “whistleblower” is obviously far more useful to a bureaucracy intent on crushing dissent: It (1) reinforces the isolation of the individual, (2) subtly implies an assumption of guilt, and (3) conveys the sense of a diminishing, dilettantish lightness of being.  The label itself is an evolved antibody.  It has become an integral part of the Pentagon's and CIA’s hierarchy of low pass filters that end up treating the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Congress, and the American people like mushrooms — or in Pentagonese, "keeping them in the dark while feeding them bullshit."
Attached below is superb piece of reportage by Marisa Taylor of the Washington McClatchy bureau.  By a meticulous compilation of facts, Ms. Taylor has painted a detailed portrait of how this homeostatic control system protects normalcy in bureaucratic cultures.  The only point I would disagree with is her characterization of this system as being “broken.” To my thinking, the system is working perfectly, and the use of the label whistleblower oils its gears.
One final point: Long-time connoisseurs of government accountability and military reform may sniff the delicate odor of one of its quiet, unsung heroes — Dr. Root Canal — in Ms. Taylor's slow, methodical, and painful operation. Without detracting from the larger corpus of excellent work by Ms. Taylor, they can rest assured that their olfactory organs are in good order.
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Intelligence, defense whistleblowers remain mired in broken system
BY MARISA TAYLOR
McClatchy Washington BureauDecember 30, 2014

WASHINGTON — When Ilana Greenstein blew the whistle on mismanagement at the CIA, she tried to follow all the proper procedures.
First, she told her supervisors that she believed the agency had bungled its spying operations in Baghdad. Then, she wrote a letter to the director of the agency.
But the reaction from the intelligence agency she trusted was to suspend her clearance and order her to turn over her personal computers. The CIA then tried to get the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of her.
Meanwhile, the agency’s inspector general, which is supposed to investigate whistleblower retaliation, never responded to her complaint about the treatment.
Based on her experience in 2007, Greenstein is not surprised that many CIA employees did little to raise alarms when the nation’s premier spy agency was torturing terrorism suspects and detaining them without legal justification. She and other whistleblowers say the reason is obvious.
“No one can trust the system,” said Greenstein, now a Washington attorney. “I trusted it and I was naive.”
Since 9/11, defense and intelligence whistleblowers such as Greenstein have served as America’s conscience in the war on terrorism. Their assertions go to the heart of government waste, misconduct and overreach: defective military equipment, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, surveillance of Americans.
Yet the legal system that was set up to protect these employees has repeatedly failed those with the highest-profile claims. Many of them say they aren’t thanked but instead are punished for speaking out.  [Continued]